Stinky buildup under toenails and fingernails can be difficult to manage and uncomfortable for a few reasons. The simplest one is that nobody wants their toenails or fingernails to smell. Odor coming from the toenails or fingernails is easily noticed by other people, and will likely make some people avoid being in close proximity to you. This can easily harm the social relationships that make life so meaningful. Lack of these relationships because of smelly toenails or fingernails can be isolating and harmful to overall health. Many people with smelly toenails or fingernails even avoid being barefoot in public, and can’t enjoy fun activities like going to the beach or heading to the pool. The harm to social life that smelly toenails and fingernails can cause is impactful, but this condition also raises the concern that medical treatment is necessary. While smelly feet are a common problem caused by poor hygiene similar to other smells on the body, the toenails and fingernails are different. When the smell comes from buildup under the nails, something else is probably wrong. 

Stinky buildup under fingernails and toenails is commonly a symptom of nail fungus infection. Nail fungus is contagious, and spreads between people as fungal spores are passed from an infected person’s nails to an uninfected person. The transfer of fungal spores commonly happens through a common surface that both people walk on or touch with their nails. Public pools and locker rooms are one of many places where toenail fungus spread is common, because there is such a high traffic of barefoot people. Another place where toenail fungus and fingernail fungus is commonly spread is at nail salons, where technicians may reuse tools on multiple clients. When nail salons know how to properly sanitize the tools, this shouldn’t be an issue. However, some salons may not sanitize the tools at all or may not sanitize them properly, which causes risk of infection.

Stinky buildup under fingernails and toenails is just one of many symptoms of toenail fungus. This buildup can look like gunk other than the nail, and can take many forms and colors. For example, it can be crumbly, dusty, thick, or look like another nail growing under the original one. Nail fungus mainly causes aesthetic changes in the nail’s surface. Discoloration of the nail is the most common, and usually first to appear, sign of nail fungus. After initial infection with the fungus, it can take some time before the symptoms are noticeable. The first signs of discoloration may be hard to notice, and show up as small dots or stripes on the nail. The discoloration will become more prominent and noticeable as the fungal infection grows. As this discoloration worsens, other changes can happen to the nail. Nails infected with toenail fungus can often become damaged, and may look cracked, brittle, or decayed. They can also start to lift up or detach from the nail bed, which can make it seem like the nail is going to fall off. The nail can also seem to grow multiple layers, or become very thickened or hardened. Debris buildup underneath the nail  and these other symptoms is caused by the fungal organism itself growing and degrading the nail.

Just cleaning the stinky buildup under fingernails and toenails won’t be enough to get rid of the smell if toenail fungus is the root cause. The fungal organisms will remain under the nail in the nail bed even after a thorough wash, and will still be able to emit odor. To eliminate the smell from toenail fungus permanently, you will need to receive a proper FDA-approved treatment from a licensed podiatrist. These doctors specialize in treating issues of the feet, and will be able to provide you effective and safe treatment for the fungal infection. Treatment for fingernail fungus should be performed by a licensed medical doctor or nurse practitioner. Medical treatments for toenail fungus vary, but if you receive an effective treatment your fungus will be permanently gone. A new healthy nail can start to grow in behind the old damaged one, free of stinky debris or buildup. However, future infections with fungus are always possible so you must also take steps to avoid such a reinfection.

Stinky buildup under fingernails and toenails should improve as a healthy nail grows in behind the old fungal one. Most treatments for fungus are very ineffective, and can take as long as a year to eliminate the fungus under the nail bed. These treatments for fungus also have very low cure rates, and require long periods of application. Some topical treatments require more than a year of application before the fungus even starts to clear. However, there are more effective treatments available for toenail and fingernail fungus. The best option is the PinPointe laser, which typically only requires one treatment to completely eliminate the fungus from under the toenail or fingernail. This means that right after the treatment, a new healthy nail should start growing in with less debris. This treatment is able to cure patients with all types of nail fungus, even those who have had the condition for a long period of time. To read about the experiences our patients have had with the PinPointe laser treatment, visit our website here.